Are you tired of Republican debates yet? At tonight’s Fox/Google-sponsored GOP showdown in Orlando, Texas Gov. Rick Perry sure acted like he was. The man was clearly in need of some wake-up juice. He yawned. He pondered. He talked slow—even for Rick Perry. By the end of the debate, he was trying to figure out how to “mate” Herman Cain with Newt Gingrich for his veep slot. Who's ready for Rick Perry-Hernewt Caingritch in 2012?
Don’t think that match-up has a catchy enough ring to it? How about Gary Johnson-Ron Paul? The former New Mexico governor and multi-instance Reason feature subject, asked to quickly pick his running mate from the crew on stage, picked Dr. No. He also proposed balancing the budget by cutting federal spending by 43 percent (!) more or less immediately, and delivered the night’s most memorable one-liner: “My next door neighbor's dogs have created more shovel ready jobs that this administration.”* There is no such thing as shovel ready!
Speaking of dogs, that’s who this debate was for. Literally. The Fox News anchors who moderated the showdown announced early on that they’d changed the time’s-up sound from the last debate after multiple complaints that the previous ding sounded too much like a doorbell—and was freaking out viewers’ puppies.
With a bit of moderator prodding, they tussled on Social Security, on ObamaCare, on their flip-flops, and their respective books—which may not be entirely fair, given that Mitt Romney seems to have read Rick Perry’s book, while it’s not clear that Perry has.
The biggest squabble between the two was probably about immigration. When Romney went after the Texas governor’s record—in particular, his decision to allow immigrant children to attend state schools at in-state tuition rates—Perry repeated his call for “boots on the ground” at the border. Of the two, he was the immigration moderate.
There were a handful of unexpected moments scattered throughout the night—Michelle Bachmann responding to a follow-up tax question by saying that Americans have a right to keep every dollar they earn, but also noting that “obviously” we need to collect revenue to run the government; Jon Huntsman delivering a lengthy disquisition on his dislike of green energy subsidies...only to finish by noting that, “if there were a way to get the ball rolling” on alternative energy, he would be for it.
But aside from Johnson’s entry, the debate was fairly stale, especially for those of us who’ve slogged through previous prime-time podium parties. Despite his recent surge in the polls, Ron Paul seemed less of a factor than in prior outings, perhaps in part because of the welcome absence of many ask-a-libertarian gotchas. Newt Gingrich continued to question the questions, as if running for debate ombudsman (or, given his stated desire to “control 100 percent of the border,” some sort of deity). Former pizza executive Cain once again mentioned “the Chilean model,” which you should not Google at the office, and touted his 9-9-9 plan to deliver nine pizzas for nine dollars in nine minutes, or something. There were word clouds, and graphs showing which federal departments poll respondents most wanted to get rid of. Rick Santorum was there too.
But overall, Rick Perry had the right idea. This debate was a snooze.
Watch Reason.tv editor Nick Gillespie's interview with Gary Johnson: